THE official campaign period for the 2019 election is still a good 15 months away but this early, no less than the spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte is in a hurry to get noticed by a larger number of voters.
In a country like the Philippines where a candidate’s popularity or notoriety wins over performance, aspirants begin campaigning on the day after the previous balloting. Harry Roque, a party-list congressman before his appointment in late October as presidential spokesman, allied himself with then vice president Jejomar Binay in the hope of being included in the opposition senatorial slate for the 2016 elections.
A few days ago, Roque said he was neither using his office for his senatorial bid nor engaging in premature campaigning, saying, “there is no election period yet.”
The President’s spokesman has probably—or was it deliberately? —forgotten that premature campaigning is no longer an election offense. The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 in the case of Rosalinda Penera, former mayor of Sta. Monica town in Surigao del Norte, that premature campaigning is no longer considered an offense under the Automated Election Law, or Republic Act 8436 as amended by RA 9369.
Under the Automated Election Law, candidates running for national elective posts (president, vice president, senators, party-list organizations) can start their campaign 90 days before the election date and 45 days for local positions (congressmen and regional, provincial, city and municipal officials).
The provision in the new election law had effectively repealed Section 80 of the Omnibus Election Code that prohibits candidates from campaigning ahead of the prescribed period.
On October 22, a week before Roque was named spokesman, Duterte already endorsed his senatorial bid for the mid-term elections. On October 28, Duterte announced that Roque would be his new spokesman, replacing Undersecretary Ernesto Abella. The President, in an interview in Davao City on October 29, said he believed that Roque was “competent and able” to deliver his message to the Filipino people.
And then, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez named Roque as among the possible senatorial candidates of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) in the 2019 elections.
Alvarez would likely be the party’s national campaign manager under its 12-0 victory battle cry, according to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, the party president.
Roque’s inclusion in the initial set of probable candidates for the 2019 elections makes his actions open to accusations of politicking, such as his plan to set up satellite offices in several provinces, including Cebu, to reach out to local journalists.
If his MRT-LRT ride last week with full media coverage was not a publicity stunt, I don’t know what is.
Last Monday, Roque said retired general Dionisio Santiago was fired as chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) because of complaints over alleged junkets abroad and for receiving a gift from a suspected narco-politician, aside from his comments that Duterte’s decision to use the planned detention center in Nueva Ecija as a mega-drug rehabilitation facility was a mistake.
Roque said the DDB employees union sent a complaint letter that had reached the President. The DDB employees union, however, denied having done so.
Santiago, the ex-DDB chair said it was former Special Action Force (SAF) commander Leocadio Santiago who was given a four-hectare rest house by the late Ozamiz mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, a known drug lord. He also claimed that Leocadio was a former lover of Ozamiz Vice Mayor Nova Princess Parojinog-Echavez, the daughter of the late mayor.
When this came out, Roque refused to apologize for besmirching the name of the ex-DDB chief and merely said that the allegations were not gospel truth, and asserted that the President has the last say on when to fire an appointee who has lost his trust and confidence.
It may indeed be too early for Roque to be campaigning but doing so early in the game could also mean he may self-destruct early.
Although I have been dismayed in previous elections when candidates who entertained voters with all sorts of campaign antics and distributed dole-outs won over serious aspirants, I still hope that this time, the country’s 55 million voters will show some maturity in choosing candidates who would put our taxes to good use.